Summer is always around the corner, but you don’t have to go to the gym to pump up those leg muscles. There are plenty of bodyweight leg exercises; the only equipment needed is your body. Get ready to learn some of the best bodyweight exercises to torch your lower body and get results. We’ll go through our favorite bodyweight leg exercises while discussing why leg exercises are essential to overall health and fitness. Let’s get started on your guide to solid legs.
Why Build Leg Muscles?
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “never miss leg day,” but have you ever wondered why? Here are some benefits of why leg workouts are so vital.
We often take our mobility for granted, but as we age, being mobile becomes more and more essential to our well-being. Better mobility reduces the risk of falls that cause broken bones or emergency surgeries. Building lower body muscles helps with everyday activities like walking, climbing stairs, or rising out of a chair. Our leg muscles are essential in all those movements we perform multiple times during the day. Without strong legs, we falter and increase the risk of injury.
Improvements in Balance and Stability
Strong leg muscles help keep you stable and balanced for sitting and standing. The more emphasis you put on keeping your lower body robust, the better your balance is, reducing injuries or falls. Leg exercises help build leg muscles to ensure stability through everyday activities.
Superior Athletic Performance
Not only are leg exercises essential to everyday activities like walking, climbing stairs, and rising from a seated position, they are vital for athletes who run, jump, cycle, and more. All of those activities require strong legs built by an intense leg workout. Athletes gain power, strength, and endurance by utilizing leg workouts and building powerful lower bodies.
Better Overall Body Strength
Your legs contain some of the body’s largest and most powerful muscles. Building them with leg exercises promotes better overall strength and endurance through the core and upper body.
Reduction in Injuries
Strong muscles support joints throughout the body. By exercising leg muscles regularly, the knees, ankles, and hip joints find better stabilization. Through that stabilization, leg muscles lower the risk of sprains, breaks, and tears throughout the lower body.
Did you hear your mom say, “stand up straight?” We love it when our moms are right. Leg muscles help support your body’s weight to keep us from slouching. Strong legs help us stand tall, avoiding rounded shoulders, which could lead to problems as we age.
The more lean muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn at rest. Since our legs hold most of our largest and most powerful muscles, the more muscles there are, the better your metabolism. A better metabolism leads to weight loss and reaching our fitness goals.
Bodyweight Leg Exercises
Let’s review some of the best bodyweight leg exercises available at home with little equipment. We’ll demonstrate how to do leg exercises, tips on form, and variations to assist anyone from a beginner to an experienced athlete.
Everyone loves a squat. Well, maybe that’s not entirely true, but it is one of the best bodyweight leg exercises because of how many muscles are involved. Squats are compound exercises utilizing the quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteus Maximus. In addition to those core leg muscles, squats work the core, lower back, and calves. A squat is a perfect place to start if you’re looking for excellent bodyweight training for your legs.
Before you squat, pay attention to our list below, which shows you the correct positioning to avoid injuries.
- Always begin a squat with your shoulders back, core tight, and back tall.
- Most squats have a starting position of feet shoulder-width apart and knees and toes forward. There are exceptions to this rule, however. The sumo squat begins with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart and feet in a small turnout.
- As you squat, keep your chest lifted and tip forward from your hip. Press back into your heels and let your glutes push towards the back wall. Your knees should align over your toes but not extend past them.
- Once you have pressed down into your squat, keeping your feet flat, press into your heels to power your body back to the starting position.
- Sumo Squat – Feet set farther apart than the shoulders, knees, and toes turned out slightly.
- Goblet Squat – Squats performed holding a kettlebell or dumbbell to your chest.
- Bulgarian Split Squats – Squats performed with one leg or foot elevated on a higher surface
- Zercher Squats – Squats performed while holding a barbell in the crook of your elbows
- Overhead Squats – Pressing a barbell or kettlebell overhead while squatting
Another compound exercise featuring an array of muscle groups, lunges are a staple in bodyweight leg exercises. They feature the quads, calves, glutes, and hamstrings.
How to Perform a Lunge
- Begin this leg workout with your feet together, shoulders back, core tight, and back tall.
- Step forward with your right leg and bring your left knee towards the floor. At the same time, keep your right knee at a 90-degree angle over your ankle. Avoid extending your knee over your toes.
- Keep your weight centered, so you have an even distribution between both legs.
- Using your quads and hamstrings, push back up off your left foot and bring your feet back together.
- Reverse everything so your left leg goes forward and your right stays back. Try for as many reps as possible and gradually increase as your lower body strengthens.
- Reverse Lunge – Step backward instead of forward with your lunge to emphasize your glutes and hamstrings more.
- Side Lunge – Lunge to the side, emphasizing the adductors (inside thigh) and glutes.
- Curtsy Lunge – Combing a curtsy with a lunge to utilize the adductors and glutes
- Jumping Lunge – Step forward into a lunge and jump up to switch into another lunge, promoting more cardiovascular work with plyometric movements.
A step-up gets the legs working and the heart pumping. Leg day is only complete with this leg workout that uses the quads, glutes, and hamstrings with another compound exercise.
- Begin by keeping your chest lifted, core engaged, and back straight.
- Step onto the stair by pressing into your heel and bringing your other foot up.
- Keep your knee in line with your ankle when doing a step-up, and avoid extending it over your toe.
- Step back down with the same leg and let the other foot follow. Avoid a quick tap in between and fully step down to work the leg muscles harder.
Variations of the Step-Up
- Alternating Step-Ups – Step up and down with one leg and then reverse to step up with the other leg on each rep.
- Box Step-Ups – Perform step-ups using a higher surface like a box or a bench to increase intensity.
- Weighted Step-Ups – Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell to your chest as you step up to increase the intensity.
Lying on your back while creating a bridge between your knees and shoulders sounds like a good time. This bodyweight leg exercise focuses primarily on the glutes. However, the hip flexors, core, and hamstrings also get a workout.
How to Do a Glute Bridge
- Lie down on your back with your knees bent at 90 degrees and feet flat on the floor.
- Tighten your core while squeezing your glutes and lifting your hips off the floor. Your knees should be straight to your shoulders, making a bridge.
- Lower your hips to the floor, keeping your glutes and core tight.
- Keep your back straight throughout the exercise, and avoid arching in your bridge position.
- Breathe through the exercise and ensure to warm up before attempting the glute bridge.
Glute Bridge Variations
- Single-leg Glute Bridge – Perform the glute bridge by lifting one leg off the floor at a time, building lower body strength and balance
- Weighted Glute Bridge – Add a barbell or dumbbell to this exercise to increase the intensity of the glute bridge
- Glute Bridge March – Lift one knee off the ground while the other stays on the floor in the glute bridge to emphasize the hip flexors and glutes.
- Banded Glute Bridge – Place a resistance band around the thighs to increase the intensity of the glute workout.
Make sure to understand the power of this exercise despite its simplicity. Calf raises work the calf muscles, specifically the gastrocnemius (the bulk of the calve muscle at the back of the leg) and the soleus (smaller but powerful muscle at the back of the leg).
Performing Calf Raises
- The starting position for a calf raise is with your feet shoulder-width apart, chest open, core tight, and back straight.
- Press onto your toes and raise your heels off the floor, keeping the movement slow and controlled.
- Pause at the top and slowly lower your heels back to the floor.
- Make sure to keep your weight in the balls of your feet and add weight if you want more intensity for this bodyweight leg workout.
Calf Raise Variations
- Standing Calf Raises – Perform using both feet at the same time
- Seated Calf Raises – Use one foot at a time while seated
- Single-leg Calf Raises – Standing position using one leg at a time
- Toe Raises – Lift toes off the ground instead of heels
- Heel Raises – Lift heels slightly off the ground
Plyometric exercises are exercises performed with explosive movements like jumping. It is excellent to incorporate into other leg exercises to increase the heart rate. The main muscles worked during plyometrics are the quads, glutes, calves, and hamstrings.
- Always ensure proper form in your squat, lunge, etc., before attempting to add plyometrics into the mix.
- Proper warm-ups and cool-downs are essential for plyometrics due to the burst of movement and increased heart rate.
- Box Jumps – Jumping onto an elevated surface with both feet
- Depth Jumps – Stepping off a high surface and absorbing the impact with both legs simultaneously
- Plyometric Squats – Squat down and jump up and back into a squat position
- Tuck Jumps – Jump with both feet and bring your knees to your chest
- Plyometric Lunges – Lunge position and jump to switch to opposite lunge
- Boundings – Walking or running with a leap in your stride
We threw another squat at you when you thought you were safe from squats. This single-leg bodyweight leg exercise focuses on the quads, glutes, and hamstrings with minimal work through the calves, hip flexors, and core.
How to Perform Pistol Squats
- Start with your feet together, back tall, and core tight.
- Lift one leg straight off the floor with the heel close to the floor.
- Slowly bend your supporting leg, keeping your knee in line with your toes to avoid a knee injury.
- Continue to lower your body until your lifted leg is parallel to the floor, and your glutes are above your heel, hovering above the floor.
- Press through your heel and leg to lift your body back to a standing position.
- Reverse on the other leg.
- This squat is intense and a beginner squat. Consider using a bench or box for stabilization during the pistol squat as you work to build strength through the lower body.
Pistol Squat Variations
- Elevated Pistol Squats – Performed on an elevated surface like a box or bench to increase the range of motion and intensity
- Negative Pistol Squats – Slow down the lowering of the body to increase the intensity.
- Weighted Pistol Squats – Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell to your chest for added resistance
Concluding Bodyweight Leg Exercises
We hope you learned that you don’t need a gym membership to perform these bodyweight leg exercises. Instead, you can increase strength, mobility, stability, and balance in your living room with only your body weight. Adding these leg exercises or their variations assists you in functional fitness to perform everyday activities without the risk of falls or injuries. Leg day never sounded so good. Check out our full bodyweight training plan or printable bodyweight training plan for help with building those leg muscles. Happy squatting!
Can you build leg muscles with body weight?
Yes. Building powerful leg muscles with body weight requires more repetitions and strategy, but it is possible. Change your movements often to work muscles differently, and add plyometrics to your workouts to increase muscle growth and cardiovascular conditioning.
How can I strengthen my legs with body weight?
Yes. Exercises like squats, lunges, and plyometrics will build your leg muscles over time. It’s about progressing to complex variations and more reps to increase muscle mass.
Are five leg exercises enough for one day?
Three to four leg exercises daily are enough to develop better leg strength and meet fitness goals.
Chris is an experienced Calisthenics practitioner focused on isometric exercises and street workout. He founded thehybridathlete.com in 2017, which was subsequently acquired by theyhybridathlete.com
He is based in Portland and has been working out using solely his own body weight and bars for the past 6 years.